You've been dating for a year or two (or three) and keep fending off the "so when are you two going to get married" question from well-meaning friends and family. You are sure you've found The One... but have you? Sometimes, after so many years together, you assume he has to be. That's what I thought. I remember my ridiculous assumption that my old boyfriend, a man I was in love with, would one day marry me. He eventually broke up with me, and frankly, I'd like to thank him for it.
I jokingly brought this up with two girlfriends recently; we were all listing ex-boyfriends that, had they proposed, we would have accepted. We shuddered to think of the consequences. Rarely is the only problem in the relationship the fact that he hasn't proposed. Sometimes we get so focused on why he isn't choosing us instead of asking ourselves if he is really the right choice for us.
Let me be clear: not every woman spends hours pining to get married or pinning on her imaginary wedding Pinterest board. And not every guy goes to the altar kicking and screaming. Absolutely not. But there are lots of women in dysfunctional relationships who think the only problem is he hasn't proposed. These women can waste years with a guy who is never going to marry them.
Some women need the validation of the proposal more than an actual wedding. There is something about being chosen, even if it's not by the right guy, that has women clinging to relationships everyone else can see are going nowhere. Last year, Jennifer Gauvain, a clinical social worker and author, released her finding that "30 percent of divorced women knew they were marrying the wrong guy on their wedding day." As Gauvain said, "Getting engaged can be a triumph, and if he's the wrong guy, the high from the attention of the engagement can minimize that fact."
For the women in these relationships, there are signs. The hard part is not just seeing them, but heeding them. Give thanks, get out and live your life without relying on a proposal to make you happy. Life isn't black and white, but if you have some doubts, these are indicators that he's not in a place to marry you. It's not about him not loving you; it's about him not wanting to marry you. And you'll thank him years from now for not doing it.
1. He's Evasive About the Future
It is generally not a good idea to discuss marriage and babies on the first date -- unless you're on "The Bachelorette" where these uncomfortable conversations are a requirement. But if you and your guy talk about jobs, careers, rent, trips, family and holidays, you should trust the relationship enough to discuss your future. Otherwise it becomes a vicious circle of neither of you bringing it up while the woman is silently waiting for something to change. This just causes more doubt and uneasiness. You'll be surprised how this type of discussion isn't so scary or difficult with the right guy.
2. He Wants to Be More Successful, More Financially Secure
There is intense pressure for men to be the breadwinner. Even though most women I know are successful professionals, it's understandable that most men want to know they can provide for their wife and family. While there is a time and place to focus on a career or education, to constantly hear "I'm not in a place to marry anyone right now" is confusing and frustrating. It keeps a relationship in perpetual limbo. Also, it repeatedly tells the woman that this decision isn't hers. Instead it is when he is "ready." Who really knows the hard times couples may face together in the future? Recognize that his resistance may be to marrying you.
3. He "Doesn't Know"
When my friend quit her job, moved to her boyfriend's city, moved in together and started looking at rings, she thought he was The One. So when months later she asked, "Do you want to marry me?" she was unprepared for his response of, "I don't know." If after living together, starting her life and career over, he still "didn't know," then deep down he did. If you feel confident you are with the man you want to marry and asking him elicits a half-hearted, non-committal answer -- realize what's really going on. No one should take marriage lightly, but at some point, you must lay all your cards on the table. What other information does he think he needs to know? When in doubt, direct questions often give you the right answer even if when it is "I don't know." It may not be what you want to hear, but it's the truth. (And my friend broke up with her boyfriend, moved back to her city, had a rough breakup year and then met her current husband).
4. He Can Only Talk about Weddings or Marriage While Being Sarcastic, Ironic or Snarky
Every chance he got, my ex-boyfriend made cynical, snarky remarks about marriage. I filed this under his edgy, non-conformist personality I liked. Now I see it as a glaring neon sign telling me it was never going to happen. I was convinced I could melt his cold, cynical heart. Maybe what I should have asked was did he want his heart melted? I made excuses for his behavior but took little responsibility for my own. He didn't want to get married, not then, and not to me. If I hadn't been trying to change his mind, I would have realized his mind was exactly where he wanted it to be. All that needed changing was my ability to see it.
Ultimately it's not about a wedding. It's not about the proposal story or a ring on your finger. It's about two people falling in love and wanting to build a life together. If you're deeply unhappy with someone but you think his proposal will change things, it won't. It will distract you from the real issues for a while, but they will still be there. Marriage can be a wonderful thing, but only if both parties are equally committed. Trust me, you don't want to talk someone into wanting to marry you. If he's giving you signs that he doesn't want to marry you, heed them. You'll thank him years from now.
Follow Claudia Maittlen-Harris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ZerosB4TheOne